Amber: Hi everybody, I’m Amber Ambrose, heavily caffeinated here at The Original Kolache Shoppe on Telephone Road, to interview the third-generation owner/operator, Kevin Dowd, for The BusinessMakers Show. It’s going to going to be a fun one, y’all. Ok Kevin, so you have been here for the past five, six years?
Kevin: Six years, yeah.
Amber: Ok, and I know that you guys celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Original Kolache Shoppe last year.
Kevin: Last year, yes.
Amber: So, this is a little bit of a personal question, but you don’t look a day over thirty. I would really like to know the story of how it has transitioned over the last sixty years to be now your business.
Kevin: Ok, well I grew up in the family business, obviously; third generation, so grandparents were in the business, my mom ran the shop for thirty-four years. I was raised in the business, obviously, from the time I was about nine. And so, growing up here was a very interesting experience, and there were always a bunch of different things that I greatly enjoyed about the business, mainly access to (Amber: Yeah, I was like, eating) cinnamon rolls as a kid. Eating the food, yeah. So, as I grew older I had kinda my own vision for the way I wanted to continue on with the business, and I took over the shop six years ago. My mom passed away and I wanted to continue on with the family tradition. You know, I think that tradition is really important. That is kind of the defining characteristic of who we are, and for me, kolaches and baking and coffee has always kind of been a real big part of my life, and I get to share that with people every day and kind of introduce my own flair to things.
Amber: Sure. Well, I’m sorry to hear about your mom. Was that, the reason I’m asking this, was it something that you were sort of thrown into unexpectedly as being a business owner, or was it something you were preparing yourself for down the road?
Kevin: Well, it was an unexpected thing to have to take it over when I did. My mom had cancer, and eight months after her diagnosis she was gone. So, it was kind of a, kind of left with, what do we do, you know? She was always the cornerstone of this business and it was definitely a very challenging time, but by the same token, this has always been home to me, and it’s something that a lot of our customers I’ve known since I was a little kid, so it’s kind of a really big extended family. And being able to continue on with what she did and kind of make mom proud type of thing. That was very important to me at the time and it is now, but since then, I’ve continued on with the traditional things that we’ve made for the past, now 61 years, almost, as well as introducing some other items to the menu that we didn’t have before, and people have been pretty excited about those as well.
Amber: For example, (Kevin: For example,) house roasted coffee.
Kevin: House roasted coffee.
Amber: I would love to know about how you, obviously, coffee and pastries are a natural transition (Kevin: Yeah, hand in hand.), but as far as Houston goes, sort of taking the extra step in roasting your own seems like a big deal.
Kevin: Well, you know to me it’s kind of a, when I first started Zeppelin Coffee, five years ago now, the idea was to create coffees that are as good as our pastries. Now, that’s kind of something big to live up to when you have pastries that have been a staple of Houston for 55 years at that time, saying, ok, I’m going to do this coffee thing and we need to make it as good as the other products that we offer. Everything we do here is from scratch, on a daily basis. It’s all made by hand, and that’s something we really value is kind of that old-school way of doing things; the artisanship of roasting coffee, of making pastries from scratch every day. We roast our coffee about four or five times a week, so it’s always freshly roasted. All the coffee in our shop has been roasted within about 48 hours, so it’s still degassing by the time we grind and brew.
Amber: What does that mean for people that don’t know, like me.
Kevin: Ok, so once you roast coffee, it undergoes kind of a degassing process. When you go from a green state of the coffee seed to a roasted bean, you undergo a chemical and a physical transformation, so there’s a lot of activity there.
Amber: So, you’re a chemist.
Kevin: I don’t know if I’d go that far, that’s a bit of a stretch, but there’s a lot of activity in freshly roasted coffee. During the degassing process, you’ll notice certain characteristics of the body of the flavor. Even the mouth, feel, and texture of the coffee change. And it’s very interesting to know the differences between freshly roasted coffee and coffee that’s stale and been sitting on a shelf for months. We pride ourselves on everything being from scratch and fresh every day.
Amber: Ok, so now we learned what degassing means, everybody. So, if you’re into that. So, here’s the funny part, now we’re going to talk about the pastries. Everything is from scratch. Were your grandparents, first of all, I know this is crazy, but there are people out there that may not know what a kolache is. Will you tell them?
Kevin: Traditionally, a kolache is a fruit filled pastry. You’ll have a dollop of fruit in the middle. On the outside, you’re going to have a puffy ring of supple dough. We put butter crumbs on top, which is a placepta, it’s a butter crumb topping, which is kind of, if people haven’t had them before, it’s kind of like the topping of a Dutch apple pie, in a way.
Amber: Like a streusel, almost?
Kevin: Yeah, kind of like a streusel topping. And that’s a traditional kolache. The origin word of kolache is kolo, which means ‘circle’ or ‘wheel,’ and that’s actually what a kolache is. A lot of people think of, like, the sausage, or sausage and cheese, but that’s actually a klobasnek. It is still a Czech pastry, but technically it’s not called a Kolache. We get a lot of folks that come in here and go, ‘yeah, give me a sausage and cheese kolache.’ No problem. You get whatever you ask for, it’s all good food, you know, and but the traditional Czech kolache is a fruit filled pastry, not the meat varieties.
Amber: Gotcha. And did y’all start with one or the other, or with both six years ago?
Kevin: It was both. We’ve always offered the sausage, and the fruits, and cinnamon rolls, things like that. Some of the newer additions to our menu are, we call them croissants, now it’s not in the crescent shape or anything like that. It’s actually a homemade phyllo dough that we make. And we like bacon around here, so we do our roast beef, bacon and cheese croissants. We do an, it’s an Applewood smoked bacon that we shred on the inside, wrap that in cheese, wrap that in roast beef, and then wrap that in a flaky, buttery phyllo dough. We even do our pastrami, bacon and cheese; ham and cheese with bacon. Two of the newer additions are, we do a beef fajita with pepperjack cheese. We start from scratch; we marinate a skirt steak.
Amber: Now that’s a real Texas flair on it.
Kevin: It’s kind of like the UN of foods. We have that Spanish, you know, the fajitas mixed with maybe more of a Czech or Italian type of pastry.
Amber: The Original Kolache Shoppe: the UN of foods.
Kevin: Ok, we can go with that.
Amber: There you go. You’re welcome.
Kevin: I like it. We’ll go with that. We also do a Monterey grilled chicken, which is good. So, there’s just a bunch of different things that we’ve added.
Amber: Even some stuff that you might be able to take home for lunch.
Kevin: Absolutely. And something that’s one of my personal favorites is something we don’t make all the time, but if people call in and order it, we will definitely make it, and that’s our Applewood smoked bacon topped cinnamon roll with a maple glaze. So, not at all part of a balanced breakfast, but it’s good.
Amber: That’s part of a balanced something. That’s alright, maybe you could just eat a salad for three days after word. That would balance it out.
Kevin: I like that. I like that.
Amber: So, you guys have been around for 60 years, and obviously, you’re not going anywhere. There was a line outside of the door when we got here. Why not expand to other locations or franchise the concept?
Kevin: That’s a question that a lot of people ask us. We have people that come up to us almost on a weekly basis asking, hey we want to buy a franchise. We want to do this, do that. And the truth of the matter is, it’s really hard to franchise soul, and to me, that’s kind of, like I said earlier, this has always kind of been home to me and I think that the tradition of what we do is very important. Most of the people that work with us here are friends or family, and to me, kind of staying true to that is very important. At some point we may open up some other locations, but the only way we would be willing to do that is without sacrificing the quality. You know, we don’t have a huge fancy building or anything like that. Our simple focus is quality food.
Amber: I feel like I want to put that on a t-shirt: You can’t franchise soul.
Kevin: We may end up doing that then, I like that.
Amber: Well, I mean, you answered my question with one sentence, so it kind of boils down to that. Well, Kevin, thank you so much for joining us today on The BusinessMakers. I’m really excited to turn off the cameras and eat a lot of kolaches. I know you’re not surprised by that. Well thank you so much, (Kevin: Thank you, Amber.) it’s been a great episode and I hope you guys are hungry now.
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